A single-serve cocktail leaves little room for error...or creativity. One ounce of this, two ounces of that, stir, strain—and if you’re entertaining, repeat till your guests are quenched. Enter punch: pièce de résistance of a good party, where you can mix more like Pollock than Pythagoras. Invented by drunken sailors working for the East India Company, “punch” comes from the Sanskrit word for "five," as the drink was originally made with five ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and tea or spices. When the beer on board became flat, they'd use whatever they encountered upon mooring in different port cities to create all sorts of potent potables.
Gabriel Orta, owner of Miami’s uber-trendy Broken Shaker bar, is no drunken sailor, but he’s just as versatile when creating his Cool in Oaxaca Punch, an evocative elixir inspired by the heat and fresh flavors of the namesake Mexican state.
It starts with spicy syrup, which is a staple in many of Gabriel Orta’s cocktails. (After you taste it, you’ll be glad our recipe makes a big batch!) Orta uses a combination of ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers to infuse simple syrup with heat, but since you’re the one drinking it, he says you should create your own pepper blend.
After heat comes the chill. Cucumber juice mellows the syrup the way all good Mexican food is tempered with something green, cool, and mild. Orta uses a juicer but also suggests pulping cucumbers in a blender and straining the puree to get that deep emerald liquid (and may we add that the leftover cucumber paste feels great on your skin after a day in the sun?) Lemon juice, celery bitters, and a pinch of salt amplify the freshness of the cucumber.
As Orta mixes, he dips a bar spoon into his brew to check the balance of flavors—punchmaking, he says, is just like simmering a soup: “Keep tasting it. If you want it more spicy, add more syrup...It’s about you enjoying it!...It’s meant to be fun.” Soup, though, is way less fun.
Stirring in both white tequila and Mezcal makes it very fun. The latter spirit, which is made in Oaxaca, adds smoky depth and picks up the chipotle in the syrup. Then it’s time to garnish: Orta floats cucumber and lemon wheels, sprigs of mint, fresh flowers from the garden, and of course, plenty of ice resulting in a festive centerpiece you can sip.
All great punches, like great parties, eventually come to an end, but as the evening winds down, the ice melts leaving a hydrating, cucumber-infused water that’ll definitely be a welcome refreshment as your guests prep for the trek home.
To make this punch for your next summer fiesta, get the recipe and watch how Orta makes it: Here!